Funding for crime victim notification system hard to find

By Matthew Reichbach

A system that keeps victims of crimes up to date on the status and court hearings of jailed offenders is still up and running in New Mexico — but for how long is not known.

The state’s district attorneys voted to continue the Victim Information and Notification Everyday, or VINE, system which was nearly a victim of shrinking budgets. Gov. Susana Martinez pocket vetoed a funding bill for VINE causing the scramble among district attorneys to keep the program for victims of crimes going.

The legislature passed a measure that would have funded “double what VINE costs by adding 10-to -35-cent-per-minute charges to inmates’ phone calls” according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

The legislation passed the Senate on a 25-14 vote and passed the House on a unanimous 46-0 vote. The legislation was sponsored by conservative Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell. Companion legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

The fiscal impact report on the legislation said that VINE actually would save money for taxpayers.

“VINE saves taxpayers money by eliminating the need to manually notify victims, allowing staff to focus on their core responsibilities; victim advocates currently mail notices to victims each time a change occurs in their case,” the Fiscal Impact Report stated. “Districts report that 40-50% of these notices are returned undelivered and that advocates spend nearly half of their work time on notifications. This cost staff hours, supplies and postage – and limits the protections envisioned by victim notification.”

Martinez argued that the bill which provided money for notifying victims of crimes through VINE would have created new and “arguably unnecessary state jobs.”

The Sun-News further quoted a statement from Martinez:

“As district attorney, she used the VINE system to supplement, not replace, the victim advocates in her office and wants to ensure that current and future DA offices cannot replace relationship with an automated system. The Governor supports efforts that will provide sustained funding for the VINE system to include potential partnerships with local and county entities.”

The burden on funding for the program now goes down the line to local areas in a time where government budgets are already facing shortfalls and reductions in services across the country.

The Sun-News reports that Doña Ana County will get by with local funding but it is not clear how other parts of the state will fund the program.

The system in in use around the country. Even conservative Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose push to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees is the impetus for historic recall elections in Wisconsin, has praised the system and approved funding as part of the state budget.